Wie proves she belongs at Fields

Updated: March 12, 2006, 5:33 PM ET
By Eric Adelson | ESPN The Magazine

KAPOLEI, Hawaii -- So she still hasn't won anything.

So what?

Michelle Wie's stirring final-round 6-under 66 that vaulted her from ninth place and oblivion to third and one shot out of a playoff at the inaugural Fields Open was thoroughly compelling, even to the skeptic who walked up every fairway with her on a blazing and yet chill-inducing Saturday afternoon -- Morgan Pressel.

Michelle Wie
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesWie finished one shot out of the playoff in her first LPGA start of the season.

The Fields brought not only Wie's finest hour as a golfer, but a glimpse of what promises to become one of the great rivalries in any sport.

Wie had every reason to cave to the pressure. She came off a mediocre Friday in which she seemed to fall out of contention. She had the entire state of Hawaii watching -- "Seemed like I knew half of the people in the gallery," she said -- and she had the fiery yet charming, call-it-as-she-sees-it Pressel in her group.

She easily could have fallen apart after a 4-under 32 on the front nine, knowing that she's struggled on the back all week long.

She could have folded after a devastating bogey on the par-5 13th -- her only one all day -- which included a three-putt that doubled her father, B.J., over in frustration.

And she could have choked at the very end, when thousands lined the fairways and watched her move into a brief tie for first. Wie has made a semi-habit out of letting nerves get to her. Seems like every tourney brings some sort of tight-gripped letdown.

Not Saturday.

Wie in pink looked a lot like Tiger in red, nailing clutch putts and staring bullets at iron approaches as they blistered toward the pin. The first-hole question, "Can Wie beat Pressel?" became a final-hole question, "Can Wie beat everyone?" The most telling moment came on the 17th green, which she hit in regulation while tied for first, but found herself down one by the time she lined up her 12-footer.

Wie has had so much trouble with putts like this. She has missed four- and five-foot putts in simpler situations. In Japan last autumn, needing a par on either the 17th or 18th to make her first cut against men, she bogeyed both holes.

But Wie pounced out of her crouch, spied the line, and softly rolled it home as if lolling around on the practice green. She pumped a fist and stomped off to 18. The crowd all but trembled in excitement, with locals running in all directions like Smurfs in crisis.

The final hole was like a scene from a movie. Wie had to lay up perfectly to water, then hit her approach only a few feet beyond the hazard. She did both, and then walked up the fairway in full smile as everyone from hula girls to chefs sneaking out of the clubhouse roared. Even a black swan flapped its wings ardently as the girl walked by.

A three-putt would have ruined everything -- and triggered outright laughter from all the doubters -- but Wie made par and waved. And the nerves? They only came after she walked off the course, when she realized, "There's nothing I can do anymore."

Wie ended up losing by a stroke to Meena Lee, who beat Seon Hwa Lee in a playoff -- the world's third-ranked women's golfer finished in third place -- but a strong message was sent.

And a poignant scene ensued. Wie stepped off the 18th to wild cheers, with Pressel -- who shot a final-round 71 to finish at 8-under for the tournament -- trodding in her wake. Wie stopped under a tree and faced toward the course, beaming. Pressel stood an arms-length from her playing partner, her back toward the course, with tears streaming down her face.

"I didn't play well," Pressel said as her eyes dripped. "Gotta go back and work on a lot of things."

As for Wie? The rival she's ripped at every turn?

"Gotta hand it to her," she said. "She played great. Good for her."

But this was no told-you-so moment. Wie and Pressel were friendly throughout the round, chatting animatedly on the long walks to their ball. (The third golfer, 49-year-old Sherri Turner, looked like the single who shows up at the course on a rainy morning and gets stuck with ringers. She finished 6-over.)

Pressel is hard not to like. She barrels through her swing like Lee Trevino, barks at her ball in flight, and waves her club in frustration even after good shots. She's the kind of player you want to have a beer with -- in four years, of course.

Wie? She was the finest of wines Saturday, smooth and memorable and finishing crisply. She and Pressel might be the Jack and Tom of a new generation. That's if Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis and a bevy of talented Koreans don't have anything to say about it.

And for those who say this performance only proves Wie belongs on the ladies' tour?

Maybe they're right. On this particular weekend, Wie made the men's event at La Costa seem boring by comparison.

Eric Adelson writes for ESPN Magazine. E-mail him at eric.adelson@espn3.com.

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ESPN The Magazine
Eric Adelson was a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

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